Singapore watchdog calls for F&N auction

Singapore's stock market watchdog has called for an auction to resolve a protracted takeover battle between Indonesian and Thai tycoons for local conglomerate Fraser and Neave (F&N).

The Securities Industry Council (SIC) said in a statement issued late Tuesday that investors needed certainty and gave both contenders until Sunday to make fresh offers for F&N, a beverage, property and publishing group.

If a stalemate remains, a daily bidding process will start on Monday until one party gives up.

F&N became a takeover target in September after selling off its most prized asset, Tiger Beer maker Asia Pacific Breweries, to Dutch giant Heineken.

A takeover contest between Thai billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi and Indonesian tycoon Mochtar Riady has dragged on since then, with both parties seeking several extensions of deadlines to table their final offers.

"The council considers that the company's shareholders should be provided with certainty to make their investment decisions in respect to the competing offers," the SIC said in its statement.

Singapore's Business Times newspaper said the call for an auction was unprecedented and follows a process used in Britain.

Charoen's TCC Assets was the first to train its sights on F&N, offering Sg$8.7 billion ($7.10 billion), or Sg$8.88 a share, for shares in the company that it does not already own.

However, its bid was stymied when property firm Overseas Union Enterprise (OUE), controlled by Indonesia's Lippo Group, tabled a higher bid of Sg$13.1 billion, translating to Sg$9.08 a share, in mid-November.

Lippo's founder is Indonesian tycoon Mochtar Riady, and his son Stephen is OUE's executive chairman.

F&N shareholders have reacted coolly to both bids, holding out for more money after an adviser gave a higher valuation than OUE's offer.

"All traders have seen are two rival foreign companies use F&N as a plaything to raise their own profile without any serious conviction to acquire the property and drinks conglomerate," said Jason Hughes, head of premium client management for IG Markets Singapore.

"The low-ball offers come across as disingenuous and many are surprised a third party hasn't sneaked in and stolen their thunder," he said in a market commentary.

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